Aug
03

Big lead gives the Yanks some breathing room

By

Baseball commentators, on the whole, are not funny. They might be affable, charming, and generally pleasant, but very few are actually funny. Twitter has made this most apparent, with sportswriters cracking jokes that get laughs only from colleagues. It’s really only when they don’t intend to get a laugh do sports commentators bring the humor. Twice in the past few days MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds has pulled off this feat. On Sunday he proclaimed that the Yankees wouldn’t make the playoffs if they didn’t make a move. Yesterday he repeated that proclamation, but this time the caveat was based on Phil Hughes‘s start. If they can’t get Hughes going, they’re not making the playoffs. It really is unintentional comedy at its peak.

The Yankees didn’t make a move, but it will take plenty more than that to keep them out of a playoff spot. After last night’s victory they have a 98.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds Report. This comes both from their 31.4 percent chance of overtaking the Red Sox for the division, and 67.5 percent chance of winning the Wild Card. After the Red Sox, there are only four other teams with non-zero chances of winning the Wild Card: Tampa at 0.7 percent, Toronto at 0.1 percent, Texas at 0.1 percent, and Anaheim at 0.2 percent. That’s not even to mention their run differential, which is tops in the league by two games. Now is not the time to be questioning the Yankees chances of making the playoffs.

Because the Yankees are so far out in front of the competition — seven games ahead of Anaheim in the actual Wild Card standings, 13 games ahead by run differential, and nine games up when factoring in strength of schedule — management has time to take a step back and really assess what they have heading into the final stretch and the playoffs. This isn’t to say the players can take their feet off the accelerator. As a band I like once titled an album, satisfaction is the death of desire. It doesn’t seem like the players would look at the standings and figure they can slack off. They know the lay of the land, and they’re surely stung by sitting even a game behind Boston. Management, on the other hand, has some breathing room. That allows them some flexibility in handling the roster going forward.

We’re already seeing this with the six-man rotation this week. Really, the Yankees could keep this going as long as it works, giving them enough time to evaluate their best options going forward. As Mike noted yesterday, it allows them to scale back the workloads of Sabathia, who is on pace for 250 innings, and Colon, who is at a six-year high in innings pitched. It also lets them see if either Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes is a viable option as a Game 3 or 4 playoff starter. There are other things they can do as well, such as experiment with Manny Banuelos as another lefty in the bullpen, or, as we’ve all desired for so long, Jesus Montero to come up and play a role in the lineup. They can, essentially, test out any viable player in the organization and see if he’ll help come playoff time.

Another aspect of this is that they can better afford to let a player rest. When Alex Rodriguez last played in a game they had just a three-game lead in the Wild Card standings. Since then they’ve doubled that, basically eliminating one of the contenders along the way. The lineup only gets stronger once A-Rod returns. If, say, Mark Teixieira runs into injury issues as he did at the end of last year, it will be much easier to rest him. Mariano Rivera can get all the work he needs, and none that he doesn’t. The same goes for David Robertson, and really, all of the bullpen. That’s not to say they should throw away games by inserting a poor reliever into a high-leverage situation. It’s that losing one game because of poor reliever performance isn’t the end of the world.

The next two months won’t quite be a cakewalk, in that no stretch of baseball is in any way easy. The players will still face it with the same level of intensity as they have all season. Management, however, has some room to play with the roster. They can see what players will help and which won’t. They can fully rest players when they’re dealing with nagging injuries, ensuring that they’re healthy come playoff time. These are the luxuries a team can afford when they’ve built up such a solid lead. And just think, if they take two of three from Boston this weekend they might be able to do all this while maintaining a good shot at the AL East crown. It really is the best of all worlds in New York.

Categories : Musings
  • Donnie23

    It’s nice to know that the Yanks are all but assured of a playoff spot, but it makes me long for the years before the wild card.

    This weekend, and the rest of the NY/BOS season series will undoubtedly produce some riveting baseball, but how much would it be ratcheted up if both teams were aware that only one would make the playoffs?

    My favorite season, by a longshot, was 1978. Sad to realize that something like that will probably never happen again.

    • Tom Bombadil

      And the only debate is to whether or not to add another wildcard. The one or three game playoff between the two wildcards would create a big enough incentive to go hard after the division, but if the Yankees and Red Sox are so far ahead of everyone else how can they justify putting one of them in a playoff just to get into the divisional series? It needs to be based on record.

    • http://deleted Total Dominication

      You know what would be worse than a less-than-riveting series between BOS and NY? If the 2nd best team in the league didn’t make the playoffs.

      • Dan

        I agree, aside from one or two very good Angels and maybe last years Rangers team, you could make the argument that every year in the past 10 years the AL’s two and with the Rays recently sometimes the three best teams have come from the East. It would be really horrible if the team with the second best record in the league does not get into the playoffs.

      • tom

        Yet baseball fans lived with that for about a century, and the game somehow remained popular.

        I think Bob Costas had the all-time great line about the wild card and this “what about the second-best team?” approach: that it’s a position held by those who think Casablanca would be a better movie if there were two Ingrid Bergmans, one to go off with Paul Henreid and one to stay with Bogart.

        Heartbreak’s part of the game. Embrace it.

        • Jim S

          Just because baseball was popular didn’t mean it couldn’t be improved.

          You know what else baseball lived with for a really long time? A league without non-whites.

          • http://www.twitter.com/JoeRo23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            You know who else liked the wild-card? Hitler.

            • JFH

              So did Pontius Pilate, Stalin and Idi Amin.

              • John

                Cult of Personality?

            • jsbrendog

              bce

              (best comment ever)

              (until that is, another comment comes along and dethrones it…the commenting gods are fickle)

            • Jim S

              He probably did. Freakin Nazis.

            • tom

              Thanks for this. It was a much more elegant way of saying what I’d have said…something along the lines of “that’s the dumbest comment I’ve read all day”

              • Jim S

                his point

                —————–

                your head

                • tom

                  Well, one of us is taking the wrong meaning from what he posted. I assume you’re sure you’re correct, but he’ll have to be the judge of that.

                  • Jim S

                    Meh. I can interpret it both ways. But my point still stands.

              • Jim S

                And more to the point, how in God’s name is it logical to you that because something is good, it can’t get better?

                Black and white TV was cool, no need to make it color.

                Dial up worked, why bother with faster internet?

                Do I need to continue? My gosh.

                • tom

                  I’m saying I don’t see it as automatically better. YMMV.

                  • Jim S

                    That’s not what you said in the post I was replying to.

                    Your point was that baseball fans lived with something for a really long time and it was still popular, so there’s no reason to change. That was what I was arguing against, whether it was the WC or anything else.

            • Mike HC

              hahahah

            • Thomas

              I do believe the lack of the Wild Card was the reason why the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

              • Mister Delaware

                (I really wanted to make a “Das _______ got screwed!” joke but the 1941 World Series had the right teams in it. Opportunity lost …)

              • nsalem

                no the only thing that’s amazing

            • Lazy Bones Andruw Jones
        • Thomas

          Then wouldn’t the logical thing be to just to take the team with the best record in each league and have them play for in the WS without the divisional and championship series.

          Or better yet, remove all divisions and leagues, balance the schedule, and just declare the winner the team with the best record at the end of the season.

        • Dan

          Heartbreak is a part of the game, and I tend to agree with Costas a lot, but the game has changed so much since the wild card was added that I don’t think you can just go back. They have added more teams and there are now three divisions in each league instead of two. Also, imagine some of the great playoff series that would have never happened if there was no wildcard. Some of those amazing Yankee-Red Sox series (in 03 and 04), the series with the A’s where Jeter makes the flip. I am sure there are more in the NL too, but I am a Yankee fan and can’t remember every NL series from the past 15 years.

          • tom

            I have zero expectation anything’s going back. I was just backing up the original poster’s premise, that something has been lost with the Wild Card — that Bucky Dent’s home run would have decided nothing more than which team won the division and which the Wild Card; that the most famous call in baseball history would now be amended to “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Dodgers win the Wild Card! The Dodgers win the Wild Card!”

            The fact that there’ve been great post-season series doesn’t obviate the fact that the pennant race — the one decided over 162 games, the great bulk of our viewing time — has been much diminished in the process. And I’m not even sure how good the additional teams/fans feel about making the playoffs if they’re gone in three first-round games. It’s almost as if they didn’t win a thing.

            As I say, no expectations anything’s coming back, any more than that great restaurant that closed in ’87 will return. But I sincerely hope they don’t expand the number of qualifying teams further. Unless baseball has always aspired to being the NHL.

            • Jim S

              Of freakin course the pennant race has been diminished.

              But just because you add more series does not imply there are fewer dramatic moments. You could argue that it added dramatic moments because you now have more playoff series, more important regular season games(because of the additional playoff spot), which adds to fan interest and excitement.

              • tom

                We simply disagree. I don’t find a last-minute face-off between the 4th and 5th best teams to qualify for the last spot to remotely match the intensity of some of the pennant races noted earlier (or the many more that appeared in baseball’s first century) between two or more superb teams fighting for one prize.

                And, for me, the many rounds of playoffs tends to make much of the post-season a blur. Of course there can always be good series/games within that framework. But, again as Costas pointed out, you could draw teams by lottery and end up with them playing an exciting set of games. That doesn’t necessarily validate the system that put them there.

                I know many people, particularly younger, love the current system; they’re used to it from the NBA/NFL/NHL. No doubt I’m some sort of relic. But I’m entitled to miss something that gave me a great deal of pleasure once upon a time.

                • Jim S

                  Drawing teams by lottery and ending up with an exciting set of games applies equally to the old pre WC system.

                  Which again, doesn’t validate either the system we have or the system we had. It’s moot.

                  And sure, I’m happy you have the memories of the system as it was, I’m not denying the excitement that existed.

                  But, and you have to admit, if you were a fan of that 4th/5th place team, the end of the season is objectively more meaningful now than it was before.

                  So I think the (arguable but for the moment i’ll concede, since excitement is subjective) slight increase in excitement of the old pennant races for the 2 teams involved weighs less heavily than the increased excitement for the teams that, in the past, would have had nothing to play for.

                  • tom

                    My rebuttal to that would be there’s a diminishment to the overall prize when you expand the field too broadly. Alot more actors would go home happy if there were three Oscars given out in every category, but what distinction there is to being an Oscar winner would fade seriously, and more resemble the Grammies, where you’re lucky to remember those who won an hour ago.

                    One the whole, I think we’re pretty much to the point where we’ve retreated to our corners. Neither of our opinions is lightly held, and neither of us at this point is likely to be moved to shift position.

        • day-o

          Two Ingrid Bergmans? I’ll take it.

          • Dino Velvet

            especially if there was a hot 3-way.

      • roadrider

        What a load of crap. What made baseball special before the wild card was the winner-take all pennant races, especially those between two (or more) superior teams. Yes, it hurts when one team has to go home but eventually ALL teams have to go home except the one that wins the World Series.

        It’s interesting and entirely appropriate to use statistical analysis to determine who are (or were the most deserving teams) but even in Strat-O-Matic, the games actually have to be played and guess what, sometimes luck, weather, injuries and other things have a role in determining the outcome. You can’t simply award playoff spots on the basis of won-lost records without making teams compete for a division or league title. Yes, sometimes it will be “unfair” but that’s what made it special.

        What are you going to advocate next, that both LCS contenders from the same league advance to the WS because both had better records and/or better playoff records or stats than the winner of the other league’s LCS?

        Get rid of the wild card and go back to two divisions per league with ONLY division winners advancing to the post-season

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Only a 31% chance of overtaking a 1 game lead?

  • JFH

    Sounds like Harold Reynolds has been afflicted with Kruk’s disease.

    • jsbrendog

      i may hate his thinking, but him and byrnes together is pure television gold

      • Mister Delaware

        As in “if my television were made of gold, it would be as useless as Reynolds and Byrnes”? Agreed.

        • thumper

          IETC

  • Stuckey

    99% of people (and that includes 98% of baseball analysts don’t understand baseball standings and the 162 game schedule.

    People who see Anaheim or Tampa making up 8-9 games in the loss column don’t understand that Anaheim and Texas playing each other during the last 3rd of the season is a factor, as well as Tampa playing Boston, and Tampa, Texas, Anaheim and Boston all playing one another.

    It would be virtually impossible for Texas and Anaheim not to do some damage to one another in their efforts to make up ground on the Yankees.

    And since they’re only 1 game apart, whatever damage one team does to another is the Yankees gain.

    Same with Tampa/Boston.

    Standings are irrelevant. Yankees have been and continue to be on a 95+ win pace. They keep that up and there isn’t a thing anyone can do to keep them from the postseason. There will NOT TWO 95+ win teams in any other division than the East, and there will NOT be 3 of them in the East.

    • Stuckey

      Let me expand upon this:

      Texas – Anaheim: 11 games with each other.

      Texas – Boston: 7 games with each other.

      Texas – Tampa: 5 games with each other.

      Tampa – Boston: 10 games with each other.

      And that’s not evening mentioning the 6 games Yanks have with Anaheim and all the Boston and Tampa games they have left.

      Assuming the Yankees split some of those games and maintain a respectable pace, it’s virtually impossible for 2 of those teams to Tampa/Texas/Anaheim to overtake the Yankees in the remaining 55-ish games.

      The splitting of most of those games just takes too many games off the schedule for a big move by 2 teams.

    • Thomas

      One of the reasons people think Tampa or Anaheim can/will make up 8-9 games is because they remember it happening before.

      People remember the Mets recent collapses, the Yankees comeback in 1978, the Angels’ legendary collapse, etc. Of course, they remember it because it is so remarkable and rare. They don’t remember the common event of the team 8 games up with two months to play winning the division by 5 or 11. Most people won’t even remember if a team with a huge lead almost blows it, but hangs on (like the 1996 and 2000 Yankees).

      So as I am sure you know it certainly can happen, but it probably won’t.

      • Stuckey

        “One of the reasons people think Tampa or Anaheim can/will make up 8-9 games is because they remember it happening before.”

        But the x factor here isn’t that one of the teams close to the Yankees have to make a run, to a certain degree, two of them do.

        Again, Anaheim or Texas go on a run, they’re gonna do it at the expense of the other, and the Yanks only have to finish ahead of ONE of them.

        Tampa is a slightly different story, but Boston is already in first, but again, it’s hard to imagine Tampa going on a run without doing damage to Boston (only a game ahead of the Yankees) since they play one another nearly 20% of their remaining games.

        Again, if the Yankees just maintain 94-95 win pace, it’s nearly mathematically impossible for 2 of those teams with mentioned besting that, which is why Baseball Prospectus’ numbers are what they are.

        Just giving some more narrative explanation of why it’s 98.9%, because narrative is what the Harold Reynolds of the world are clinging to.

        • nsalem

          and when the economy gets bad rural Pennsylvanians tend to cling to their religon, their guns and FIP.

          • Mister Delaware

            “Listen here, if you think Jesus Christ would have had an xFIP over 2.40 in the American League this year, I’ll shoot you right in your no good mouth.” – Somewhere near where my in-laws live

    • Lazy Bones Andruw Jones

      This. All those wins have to come from somewhere.

      The last time a team with over 90 wins didn’t make the playoffs was Cleveland with 93 in 2005. And that year KC was a joke with 106 losses.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      There’s a reason the 1978 pennant race is so revered and memorable:

      A team blowing a lead that large is pretty freaking unfathomable, as in “it only happens a few times a CENTURY”.

  • Jim S

    “It’s that losing one game because of poor reliever performance isn’t the end of the world.”

    Can we bold and capitalize this sentence during every close game for the rest of the year?

    So that people realize that Girardi might not be an idiot when Noesi or Wade is closing out a 2 run game against Toronto?

    • jsbrendog

      this is why i avoid game threads like kevin james avoids vegetables

      • nsalem

        and your busy watching the game!!!

    • pete

      preaching to the choir. I’ve been saying that since the days of Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez.

      Deep bullpen that can soak up semi-relevant August/September innings with modest effectiveness >>>>> winning that game that we totally should of won last night when Mo had only thrown two games in a row girardi is teh suxor1.

  • Pat D

    And Harold Reynolds also said that the Yankees rotation can’t beat the Giants, Phillies or Brewers.

    He then immediately praised the Cardinals for acquiring Rafael Furcal and Corey Patterson.

    • jsbrendog

      Proven winners©®™

    • nsalem

      Especially the Brewers and especially in New York.

  • JD
    • Jim S

      Heh. Of course.

    • Cris Pengiuci

      If this is true, it’s unfortunate. However, he is innocent until proven guilty (guilty of what, I’m not sure, but I guess MLB has some standards).

      • JohnnyC

        How can you consider suspending someone when you admit that you don’t even have proof he was there? If Matthews is reporting correctly, the investigation isn’t even close to being completed.

        • Jim S

          “If Matthews is reporting correctly”

          Annnd there’s the rub.

          Although to be fair he’s a perfectly fine reporter. He’s just a god-awful analyst.

          • JohnnyC

            Boxing reporter? Yes. Baseball reporter? Uh, not so much.

            • Jim S

              Reporter as far as reporting the facts?

              I don’t recall any horrible screw-ups on his part, but it’s possible I’m mistaken.

          • MikeD

            He has no understanding of the game, and he takes minor points and overblows them to try and generate page views. He’s a tabloid “reporter” who is not interested in reporting the real story. He’s useless.

    • Guest

      I’m not so sure what rule A-Rod violated. Matthews does some cheeky eliding of relevant information.

      Yes, ARod has gotten in trouble with MLB for participating in poker games at illegal under ground clubs. If he were at another one of those clubs, then that would certainly be problematic. Matthews doesn’t say that, but he still tries to imply the game was illegal.

      But look where the game took place: some entertainment exec’s house. Look who participated in the game: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and a bunch of other rich stars. That’s not an under ground club, that’s your weekly poker game if your friends were A-listers instead of normal people.

      Now, if there is some rule against playing poker for a certain amount of dollars, then I can see why A-Rod would be trouble. But the illegal poker club thing from his past doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a home poker game with a bunch of other people who show up on the cover of People magazing.

      • Guest

        And now ESPN has removed “illegal” from the headline. Probably a wise move.

    • Adam

      Oh goodness…already speculation on ESPN Radio about the Yanks wanting to void ARod’s contract.

      • JohnnyC

        It’s Don LaGreca…would you expect anything less from a hater and Mets fan?

      • Adam

        PS, this is what happens when you play poker with a couple of Red Sox fans.

      • Skip

        That whole article was a mouthpiece for some MLB Exec with an axe to grind against Alex to vent. Seriously, I’ve met 16 year olds who are more mature.

        • Mister Delaware

          Might want to keep that one quiet. Wink.

    • Skip

      You know what’s going to happen? ARod is going to call a press conference and MLB Executives will be there right next to him. Then he’s going to say that he doesn’t know how his name ended up in these reports but he’s going to hire his own commission to get to the bottom of this. Right away. Then let us know the results. And MLB will say they support him in his fact finding mission, 100%.

      Oh, wait.

    • MikeD

      Once again, never click on an ESPN link that’s written by Wally.

  • M^2

    I have never been inspired to comment on RAB before (despite reading it every day), but seeing a Hatebreed allusion in a Yankees article almost brought a tear to my eye. Thanks, Joe.

  • jay h

    um wallace matthews is in top of his game today

    • jay h

      on top*

      • Jim S

        “Wallace Matthews is on top”

        Images I’d like removed from my head for 1000, Alex.

  • AWESOM-O

    If anyone knows about winning, it’s Harold Reynolds.

    I mean, look at all his rings.

    • JohnnyC

      If anyone knows about harassment, it’s Harold Reynolds.

      • AWESOM-O

        “I just can’t see the Yankees doing much even if they do make the playoffs with that questionable rotation. Also, have you checked out the rack on that new intern? Does anyone have her number?”

  • JP Bouffard

    Joe, you are right about baseball analysts, and Reynolds’ statement was unadulterated, brain-dead idiocy, but sheesh…there are so many of analysts, analyzing so many games, and every square millimeter of every game is examined, I don’t know that we can really expect them to be different and funny and unique on even a semi-regular basis. As for sportswriters being funny, well, many of them are. Like, really funny. Jim Murray….Dan Jenkins….

  • Matt DiBari

    Some of the least enjoyable games I’ve seen as a Yankee fan was last September when we stopped actively trying to win the division. Resting everyone and repeatedly putting Chad Gaudin and Royce Ring in winnable games might make sense from this perspective, but it made for God awful baseball

    • Tom Bombadil

      I agree. The only thing dumber than those September spring training games would be someone getting suspended for being at a poker game.

      • Mister Delaware

        While guys with DUIs keep skating.

  • YankeesJunkie

    Once again I don’t really understand this thriving on CC’s innings. It is not that big of a deal considering that his pitch count and number of starts is equitable from the past two years. If anything CC should be praised for his efficiency and continued work man like attitude of going out every fifth game/day. Pitching has been better this year and because of that they have need less pitches to go the same amount of innings. If CC’s rate continues I look forward to seeing a Yankee crack 240 or even 250 innings.

    • MikeD

      I’m not concerned if CC ends up in the 250 range. Based on high leverage innings, he’s actually had an easier workload than in his two prior seasons with the Yankees. He’s fine.

  • John

    Didn’t this happen last year?

    like reading the post and recalling last season, the Rays and Yanks had everything wrapped up somewhat early, the only decision made was who was the wild card and who won the east. It game down to a tie breaker awarding the Rays.

    All the rest the team got in september, followed by an easy division series that ended early resulted in way more rest. Notice how the Yanks came out so flat against the Rangers in the ALCS. Pitching was rusty, and the offense was no where to be found.

    Just switch the Rays and the Red Sox and it can be deja vu all over again.

    • MikeD

      It did just happen last year, and it’s one of the reasons why MLB is thinking of adding another Wild Card. While on the surface that doesn’t make sense, in reality if they made the two Wild Card winners play each other just to have the right to play one of the division winners, it would restore great value to winning the division. The division winners could set up their rotations and have a few days extra to rest their players, while the Wild Card winners would have to use their best pitchers and potentially have no days off just to advance to play one of the division winners.

      Right now there is minimal incentive for the Yankees or Red Sox (or the Rays last year) to win the division, as long as they know they have the Wild Card. By adding a Wild Card death match division series, the inventive to win the division will be returned.

    • http://www.youcantpredictbaseball.com bexarama

      The Yankees had pretty much everything wrapped up early in 2009, breezed through the ALDS, and did pretty darn well for themselves in the ALCS.

      In other words, people will never be happy. Ever.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    After last night’s victory they have a 98.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds Report.

    Sadly, they only have a 17.1% chance of making the playoffs according to the Harold Reynolds History of Inappropriate Hugging Prospectus Playoff Odds Report™.

    (HRHIHPPOR™ data is proprietary; do not publish or disseminate internal metrics without written authorization. All rights reserved.)